Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Davante Adams notices everything on the football field, especially when he’s watching film.
While reviewing recent wide-framed “end zone” copies of practice footage the last couple weeks, he’s even noticed one teammate who had rarely been in for the actual plays — quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Adams said on the tape, the rookie fourth-round draft pick out of Purdue was often visible in the distance mimicking the movements of veterans Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer.
“Whether they’re handing the ball off, faking it, going into a pass play or whatever, you see him working on his craft,” Adams said of O’Connell Thursday at the Raiders’ Henderson headquarters. “He’s always ready for his opportunity.”
There will be no more waiting come Sunday at 1:25 p.m. when the Raiders (3-5) host the New York Giants (2-6) in their first game since moving on from coach Josh McDaniels, general manager Dave Ziegler and offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi.
O’Connell won’t be the third-string emergency option like he’s been in most games (six out of eight) this season. And he hasn’t been off to the side in practice this week either.
He’s taken all the first-string reps for the first time this season after interim coach Antonio Pierce and interim general manager Champ Kelly named him the starter effective immediately.
“He gives us the best chance (to win),” Pierce put plainly when asked why he’s making the switch from Garoppolo to O’Connell.
The Raiders haven’t gotten much out of any of their quarterbacks this season, and that includes O’Connell. In one previous start, a 24-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4 while Garoppolo was unavailable in the concussion protocol, O’Connell committed three turnovers and took seven sacks.
He did lead the Raiders to a late touchdown drive in a 30-12 loss to the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, but that was only after throwing an interception in his first series of action.
Las Vegas isn’t all that worried about the lowlights, though, because of the consistent progress O’Connell has shown ever since he arrived. He judged his performance against the Chargers harshly and said his focus going forward would be to work on all the areas where he felt he failed.
That’s what he’s done ever since.
“The experience is super valuable for me,” O’Connell said. “I think the game reps are priceless. I definitely learned a lot and got to take what I learned and apply it in practice. It’s also now a different challenge and different team we’re going against so at the same time you can reflect on it, but you have to take a different challenge as it comes.”
The Giants are seemingly a soft-landing spot for O’Connell to take over considering they rank 27th in league in giving up 5.6 yards per play on defense. But New York could test O’Connell with where he’s most vulnerable in holding the ball too long considering it’s racked up 10 sacks in the past two weeks.
“They have really great players up front that play really hard and are dynamic,” O’Connell said. “We’ve got to do a great job of playing hard and matching their intensity.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for O’Connell. The stereotype might be that a rookie quarterback is timid and light-spoken, but O’Connell by all accounts anything but when he’s on the field.
He played all three games for the Raiders in the preseason, starting two, and posted an NFL-high 108.4 passer rating with teammates crediting his assertiveness as a reason for his success.
“He has a command of the huddle,” center Andre James said. “It’s impressive for how young of a quarterback he is.”
It’s even more impressive given his background, which is another reason why there could be optimism for improvement. He’s gotten better quickly wherever he’s been.
O’Connell walked on at Purdue and sat eighth on the depth chart to start his career before working his way into the school’s record books where he ranks fifth in all-time touchdowns and sixth in passing yards.
Eight is apparently his magic number as he was also the eighth quarterback taken in this year’s NFL Draft. Like at Purdue, he didn’t immediately thrive with the Raiders.
O’Connell struggled with interceptions early on in training camp but settled down and came alive by the time pads came on. He was then near-perfect in the preseason with 482 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on a 69.4% completion rate.
Many called for him to play right away, but even after his first start, O’Connell continually played the hype down and said improvement was the only thing on his mind. Even after getting the call from Pierce that he would be the starter going forward, O’Connell didn’t allow any time to let the news sink in and reflect on how far he’s come.
“There’s no time for that,” O’Connell said.
“Those conservations happen quick because we’ve got to get going and start getting to work.”
That’s the type of attitude that’s endeared him to players like Adams, who has praised O’Connell since early in the season. Adams had one of his better games of the season when O’Connell was throwing to him against the Chargers, hauling in eight catches for 75 yards, and trusts the rookie to set him up the rest of the way.
“All the things (he does) are a lot more mature than what I’ve seen from a first-year quarterback in my history,” Adams said. “In Green Bay, those guys were great but I just see something different in his intentionality and the way he goes about his business. It’s a recipe for success.”